Lethe Press / October 2009
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno
Jameson Currier knows horror. So why, then, doesn’t horror yet know Jameson Currier? One of among a handful of pioneering writers who chronicled the impact of AIDS on an entire generation of gay men, Currier lived through and witnessed, first-hand, the ravages of an epidemiologic nightmare. With his landmark novel Where the Rainbow Ends and three subsequent short story collections, he brought humanity to the inhumanness of the AIDS crisis and those victimized by both the disease and a world slow to respond to it. So while many horror readers were discovering writers like Stephen King and Bentley Little and Jack Ketchum in the 80’s and early 90’s, Currier was watching friends and lovers battle a monster far worse and far more devastating than rabid dogs or backwoods cannibals. And the experience has left him haunted.
It’s this pervasive sense of being haunted that informs every aspect of Currier’s superb debut collection of genre fiction, The Haunted Heart and Other Tales. The twelve stories here represent a wide spectrum of the modern gay experience – from the domesticity of gay families and the comforts of upward mobility to the volatile world of circuit parties and addiction, from the grapple with middle-age to the undisciplined abandon and hopefulness of youth. What sets Currier’s stories here apart from the usual spirit-driven tale is that the hauntings are not external to the protagonists – most are manifestations of their own memories and unresolved guilt.
While some stories – like “The Woman in the Window” and “The Incident at the Highlands Inn – remind us that modern-day horrors like home invasions and stalking are blind to sexual orientation, at the core of The Haunted Heart and Other Tales is an intersection between history and the modern gay experience. Through his fictional exploration and juxtaposition of Civil War lovers (“The Country House”) and the intolerance of mid-eighteenth century Calvinism (“A Touch of Darkness”) against gay parents and openly gay Hollywood actors, Currier reminds us of just how far we’ve come as a community.
Standouts here include “The Man in the Mirror,” a gorgeous lament on the cruelty and inevitability of aging and the mercilessness of the human conscience, and the titular tale, a short story about the ghost of an old sea captain whose decades-long haunting of a gay couple reveals his own lost humanity. Despite its relatively modest word count, “The Haunted Heart” is epic in scope and downright devastating in its resonating emotion.
The Haunted Heart and Other Tales expands upon the usual ghost story tropes by imbuing them with deep metaphorical resonance to the queer experience. Infused with flawed, three-dimensional characters, this first-rate collection strikes all the right chords in just the right places. Equal parts unnerving and heartrending, these chilling tales are testament to Currier’s literary prowess and the profound humanity at the core of his writing. Gay, straight, twisted like a pretzel…his writing is simply not to be missed by any reader with a taste for good fiction.
Purchase The Haunted Heart and Other Tales by Jameson Currier.